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Artillery Row

Ban Hizb ut-Tahrir

There is no place in Britain for calls for violent mobilisation along religious lines

Some of the more disturbing scenes from Saturday’s pro-Palestine protest were from an adjacent protest, organised by the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT). Translating to “The Party of Liberation”, the group and its supporters rallied outside the Turkish and Egyptian embassies, calling for Muslim armies to defend Gaza from Israel. A protester made calls for jihad against Israel which led to the Metropolitan Police releasing a statement expressing their view on different understandings of jihad. For what its worth, as Aymenn al-Tamimi notes, the police were not referring to the obfuscations employed by Islamists or their water-carriers who pretend jihad is simply about spiritual struggle. Instead, the police were suggesting that simply calling for jihad is not an offence abroad in itself. 

As Ben Sixsmith observes in this same outlet, there is a long-list of equivalent or more minor actions that will incur arrest. Debates about jihad aside, it should be beyond doubt that Hizb ut-Tahrir are extremists and more importantly, that a refusal to proscribe the group has an enduring negative impact on British society. Their leaders have said that the 7th October Hamas attack on Israel “made us all very, very happy”. The group, and its outriders in Islamist media, are part of an extremist infrastructure that raises barriers to participation in British life for Muslims, and provides the intellectual cover and basis for violent extremism. Its own literature describes involvement in democracy as equivalent to disbelief and it calls for members to disassociate themselves from mainstream British life.

All this, and the association of bonafide violent extremists with HuT at some point on their path to violence, are why multiple British Prime Ministers have promised to proscribe the group, following the footsteps of fourteen countries around the world, almost exclusively Muslim, for their role in promoting coups and political violence. 

this reflects the longstanding naivety of British counter-extremism

And yet, no ban has been forthcoming. The arguments against a ban centre around the fact that HuT sits below the threshold for proscription, and does not have direct links to terrorism. Yet this reflects the longstanding naivety of British counter-extremism, which has focused on creating a bulwark against the most violent forms of extremism, and overlooked and tolerated expressions of support for religious violence, or justifications for it. It is the same approach that has led to police chief inspectors sitting alongside clerics who threaten violence against blasphemers, and that has led to a teacher forced into hiding for alleged blasphemy offences. It ignores the fact that, as Liam Duffy has noted, the conditions on the ground for over a thousand British citizens to join Islamic State were created long before their caliphate was declared in 2014 by the UK’s existing Islamist infrastructure.

It is true that the group itself is not violent. But this hasn’t stopped Germany banning them for violent rhetoric, as noted by Met Police chief Mark Rowley this morning in what was thinly veiled support for a similar measure here.

In a strikingly similar precedent in 2003 Germany based its ban on the group’s calls for violent elimination of the State of Israel, using measures normally used against the far-right.  The group challenged this in European courts but the appeal was struck down on the basis that it is impossible to derive rights from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) that are aimed at destroying the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention. German courts found that the group did not simply criticise existing political or social conditions but called for armed struggle against both Israel, Jews, and existing governments of Islamic States, as it has done recently in London. 

When the question of banning HuT previously arose, there were many who were quick to argue against a ban. British counter-terrorism writer Haras Rafiq, then at the quietly shut-down counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, argued that a ban would be ineffective or subject to successful legal challenge. Instead we should “actually take them on in an ideological struggle and counter their narratives. Take them on, debate them, make it more difficult for them”. But this is again an argument based on the naive assumption that there is an argument to be won. Two decades of a hugely expensive intellectual war by counter-extremism think-tanks does not appear to have won many intellectual battles. To paraphrase Shadi Hamid, Islamists are not liberals in disguise, waiting to be uncovered or exposed to different thinking. Hizb ut-Tahrir’s members have seen the values of Western society first hand — the British leader, Abdul Wahid, went to Merchant Taylors’ private school in North London. Another round of Prime Minister’s speeches affirming what is or isn’t the correct Islamic belief is not going to dissuade him or his fellow members. And lawmakers should not conveniently forget their own law-making raison d’etre and hide behind the courts when claiming that legislation does not currently work. 

Instead, limiting the space in which HuT can publicly operate could weaken the group. It will prevent the recurring farce by which HuT members are able to speak at university campuses without challenge despite a National Union of Students ban, or dominate the narrative at protests. Some argue that a ban would simply see members go underground or create new front groups. It is true that proscription is not an elixir to the problem of extremism. But Hizb ut-Tahrir is a group that thrives on its ability to act legally, whose leadership are public. A ban will send a clear message to current HuT members that the existing state of play by which they call for religious war on weekends and then return to their normal lives during the week will no longer be accepted. 

Opponents of a ban will portray it as a continuation of Europe’s political neuroses and anxieties around Palestinian protests. But the reality of this debate is that it has very little to do with Israel or Palestinian freedom, and far more about preventing the exploitation of overseas conflicts by extremist groups. HuT, like many of the other political organisations who attended Saturday’s protest, have little interest in the national liberation of Palestine, and instead see it as a route to achieving their own goals of a global caliphate. Conflict in Gaza or the Middle East serves as a convenient excuse for these groups to mobilise, damaging the cause of their fellow protesters and inciting fear for other citizens, particularly Britain’s Jewish communities, in the process. Those who care about Palestinian rights should be the first to embrace a ban of political groups that hijack an otherwise legitimate cause — and politicians should be clear that, even though disagreeable, the right to protest in support of that cause remains. 

British politicians are often keen to call for an embrace of  “British values” without ever defining them

British politicians are often keen to call for an embrace of  “British values” without ever defining them. It is indeed a difficult task. The Prevent counter-extremism programme (which HuT leads opposition to) defines them as including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. Readers might fear that a ban on HuT would itself fall foul of this definition. But as set out in reference to ECHR above, it should not be possible, through a definition of extremism, to derive rights that are aimed at destroying the rights set forth in that definition. 

And destroying those rights, whether gradually in Britain through a slow march through institutions, or through violence abroad, is at the heart of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s beliefs. From the left to the right, British politicians should be confident enough to assert that Hizb ut-Tahrir’s calls for violent mobilisation along religious lines, and the destruction of Israel, sits beyond any reasonable vision of 21st century Britain.

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